Philosopher William Craig Explains Why Atheism is Unlivable


Craig in a debate with atheist naturalist Alex Rosenberg at Purdue University, 2013.

Atheists admit that if God does not exist then the universe is both purposeless and meaningless. The late William Provine penned that “The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life” (1). And as Jon Casmir would agree, “There is no meaning of life. The whole thing is a gyp, a never-ending corridor to nowhere” (2).

Such conclusions are not disputed by the majority of atheists. Most, whether they admit it or sugarcoat it, believe that the universe, in its very essence, is purposeless and meaningless should God not exist. Many atheists have noted this, and attempted to construct a subjective purpose and meaning for human life. Michael Shermer, for example, said so in no uncertain terms claiming that “we can develop ways to make us feel better; feeling like we have a purpose” (3).

As ideological opponents to atheism have pointed out, this leaves one with several fairly significant problems. Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig is one such voice to do so. In one lively debate, Craig criticizes the idea that atheists can just make subjective meaning for themselves when, at bottom, atheism doesn’t allow for any meaning and purpose whatsoever,

“This just is to say that we can pretend that the universe exists for some purpose and this is just make belief. This is the subjective illusion of purpose. But there is on this view no objective purpose for the universe. And we, of course, would never deny that you could develop subjective purposes for your life. The point is on atheism they are all illusory. And that is why I agree with Richard Dawkins when he said, “at bottom this is an emotional question rather than a rational one.” I wish I had the courage to say that. I am convinced that people adopt atheism primarily for emotional rather than rational purposes” (4).

The atheist, argues Craig, shows a great practical inconsistency here which leads him to conclude that atheism is irrational,

“But you cannot live as if your life is purposeless and meaningless. And therefore you adopt subjective illusions of purpose to make your life livable. And that is why I not only think atheism is irrational but it is profoundly unlivable. You cannot live consistently and purposefully within the context of an atheistic worldview” (5).


1. Provine, W. 1998. Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible. Available.

2. Jon Casimir quoted by John Marsden in This I Believe (1995). p. 48.

3. William Lane Craig at his Best (3min: 27sec). Available.

4. William Lane Craig at his Best (3min: 30sec – 4min: 15sec). Available

5. William Lane Craig at his Best (4min: 20sec – 4min: 40sec)Available


11 responses to “Philosopher William Craig Explains Why Atheism is Unlivable

  1. Craig’s arguments are nonsense. He writes as if atheists are merely pretending to have purpose. The Christian believes that his purpose is given to him. The atheists believes we choose our own purpose. We have one life, and we can choose what to do with it (i.e. what purpose to make of it). It’s not that complicated.

    • So you would agree that in order to “choose” your own purpose you must have “free will” in order to do so? I thought all atheists believed otherwise.

  2. Pingback: Philosopher William Craig on Why Atheism is Unlivable. — James Bishop’s Theology & Apologetics. – Pickering Post·

  3. Theists believe that ‘purpose’ for atheists is subjective (and therefore illusory), whereas atheists believe that ‘purpose’ for atheists _and_ theists is subjective, and not (necessarily) illusory for either.

    Theists might be right; atheists might be right. If atheists are right, then – according to theism, or at least to this blog – theism is unlivable.

    Or maybe this assertion is just a giant non sequitur?

  4. Of course atheists would say that William Craig’s arguments are nonsense, because in order to justify their worldview they have no other choice!

  5. From the perspective of science, the purpose of life has been presented long ago. All species exhibiting entropic adaptation do so with a primary instinct to expand potential. Without this, no living organism would be here today.

    To that, Craig is as lost as they come in knowing the basics of biological science.

    • “a primary instinct to expand potential” – how does that arise in a purely material organism composed entirely of mindless, unguided chemical molecules?

      • Entropic adaptation.

        The function of adapting to even the slightest change in a given environment (immediate or gradual) results in modified behaviour — as a response to said change. However, the entropic style of adaptation allows for rudimentary memory of past adaptations, allowing future tasks in adaptation to be performed with greater efficiency. Much research in many areas of biology have reveal this mechanism.

        Evidently, not all organisms require a brain to qualify as a living organism.

        • So what, exactly, is this “rudimentary memory of past adaptions” composed of, and where does it reside? Inside a purely physical, material brain? And where does the “primary instinct to expand” originate – same place, I suppose? How can immaterial concepts such as efficiency, instinct or purpose possibly arise from purely physical matter?

  6. Rudimentary memory is a biological function that preserves some of the traits previously used. It’s not a literal cognitive memory (unrelated in this case), but an encoded capability from past environments — dormant in the current environment as not requiring the use of said capabilities. As mentioned previously, these traits do not require a “brain”.

    Here is the entropic adaption of genetic mutations as researched by Richard Lenski:

    Abstract from the article:
    “Random genetic mutation pushes organisms to diversify, while natural selection is a homogenizing force, favoring characteristics that enhance survival under specific conditions.”

    This second article quotes Lenski on the increased rate of mutation as proportionate to the changed environment (hence entropic modelling):

    In the scientific field, these adaptations are accelerated by developing genetic “tools” used in overcoming biological constraints. Thus, adaptation becomes easier as shown in Lenski’s work.

    These methods of research in small organisms are common in the field. Much can be learned in the ways adaptation takes place when changing the environment of a species. Much is done this way:

    Interestingly, Lenski’s work revealed whole new species in the evolution of e-coli. Allow these to continue even further, and the separation will take on more distinction as changes to the environment are induced.

    This is where scientists begin to drop all adherence to religious ideology in asking “Did god create the new species that mutated before me?” Evidently not. Through artificial influence in the environment of small organisms, the mechanism of adaptation will trigger mutation (in accelerated fashion if needed) to better suit sustained function in the new environment.

    The addition of more genetic complexity from past adaptation of many environments builds two things: a more capable genetic intelligence, and a more developed genetic toolset that facilitates easier adaptation of the next environment.

    This entropic style of adaptation gathers more capability with each challenge it overcomes. This is the genetic trait we use in our everyday lives.

    When we go to university to learn about the field we endeavour to work in, we gather knowledge and methods for the respective field. Once graduated, are we the same as when we started? No, we’re more capable. Why do we like to figure things out? To understand more. Why do we explore, wonder, experiment, or do anything creative? To gather more capability in understanding, and thus improve our resilience as a survival trait.

    If we did none of these things, we wouldn’t have the technologies we have today. We also wouldn’t have the abilities our civilization has today. Go back further and we wouldn’t have instinct to preserve our sociality. Further yet, we wouldn’t have surpassed the changed state of any environment in our past — we simply wouldn’t exist.

    So yes, it’s in our genetic makeup to expand potential (diversify) — and Craig, ignorant of this, is a professional debater who cares not of truth based on evidence, only wanting an audience to score subjective points as not contingent to revealing truth at all. To that, we in the scientific community really don’t care what Craig has to say, we only care what’s true.

    If need more information on entropic adaptation, feel free to read the many articles I’ve written in this area.

Let me know your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s